Mid 1800s to the early 1900s
The first attempts at forming a riparian owner based organisation to protect and improve Wye fisheries can be traced back to 1862 when a voluntary body was established, the Wye Preservation Society. The efforts of this organisation concentrated on bailiffing, especially during the spawning season and bringing prosecutions against poachers. The benefit of this early policing work, however, was minimal, mainly due to the high levels of unrestricted netting being carried out on the Wye during this period.
In 1874 the Wye Preservation Society became the Wye Fisheries Association with a shift of focus to the renting of any netting rights that came available on the open market. At this time fisheries up to Whitney on Wye were netted. This was ultimately an unsustainable exercise: the cost of renting netting rights far exceeding the revenue accrued from re-letting the rod fishing. The Wye Fisheries Association met this to a certain extent through donations and rates paid voluntarily by riparian owners and others but the problem with renting netting rights remained (as opposed to buying them) in that as stocks increased, rents did accordingly.
Prior to this, a statutory Wye Board of Conservators had been constituted in 1866. Small budgets had meant that this organisation was unable to do much until 1908 when they were given the power to levy a rate on fisheries. This allowed substantial sums to be raised while also ensuring a much fairer division of the burden among riparian owners. In 1902 the Wye Board of Conservators, under the Chairmanship of John Hotchkis passed byelaws to restrict river netting to downstream of Bigsweir Bridge. Again in 1908 further byelaws restricted netting to downstream of Brockweir Bridge thus no netting has been allowed on the Wye above the tidal waters.
Compensation was due for the netting rights but this was minimal due to the depleted salmon numbers. In addition, when the runs began to recover, owners found they could earn more from rod income than from netting.
The move towards central Government control - 1950 onwards...
The Board of Conservators continued until 1949 (Robert Pashley was its last Chairman) when the River Boards Act (1948) formed the Wye River Board, which took over fisheries regulation along with the duties of flood prevention from local government. Members of this and other River Boards were part selected by local councils and by the government.
In 1963 a further move towards governmental control took place in the formation of River Authorities. The Wye River Authority took the power of the existing Board and combined it with responsibilities for water quality monitoring and the protection of water resources. River Authorities remained in existence until 1973 when their powers were passed to the newly created Regional Water Authorities. When these were privatised in 1989, the National Rivers Authority (NRA) took over their fisheries duties (amongst others). In 1995 today’s Environment Agency was formed, incorporating the previous NRA’s duties along with flood defence, waste management and nuclear regulation.